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Reflexive pronouns

Level: beginner

The reflexive pronouns are:

singular: myself yourself himself herself itself
plural: ourselves yourselves themselves

We use a reflexive pronoun as a direct object when the object is the same as the subject of the verb:

I am teaching myself to play the piano.
Be careful with that knife. You might cut yourself.

We can use a reflexive pronoun as direct object with most transitive verbs, but these are the most common:

Reflexive pronouns 1


Be careful!

We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves:

He washed in cold water.
He always shaved before going out in the evening.
Michael dressed and got ready for the party.

We only use reflexives with these verbs for emphasis:

He dressed himself in spite of his injuries.
She’s old enough to wash herself.

Level: intermediate

We use reflexive pronouns as an indirect object when the indirect object is the same as the subject of the verb:

Would you like to pour yourself a drink?
We’ve brought ourselves something to eat.

We use reflexive pronouns as the object of a preposition when the object is the same as the subject of the verb:

They had to cook for themselves.
He was feeling very sorry for himself.

but we use object pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place:

He had a suitcase beside him. (NOT himself)

and after with when it means accompanied by:

She had a few friends with her. (NOT herself)

We use reflexives with the preposition by:

  • to show that someone did something without any help:

The children got dressed by themselves.
I prepared the whole meal by myself.

  • to show that someone was alone:

He lived by himself in an enormous house.
She walked home by herself.

We use reflexive pronouns to emphasise the person or thing we are referring to:

Kendal itself is quite a small town.

  • especially if we are talking about someone very famous:

Sir Paul McCartney himself sang the final song.

We often put the reflexive pronoun at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis:

I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself.

Reflexive pronouns 2


Reflexive pronouns 3


Level: advanced

Some verbs change their meaning slightly when they have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:

Would you like to help yourself to another drink?
     = Would you like to take another drink?
I wish the children would behave themselves.
     = I wish the children would behave well.
He found himself lying by the side of the road.
     = He was surprised when he realised that he was lying by the side of the road.
I saw myself as a famous actor.
     = I imagined that I was a famous actor.
She applied herself to the job of mending the lights.
     = She worked very hard to mend the lights.
He busied himself in the kitchen.
     = He worked busily in the kitchen.
I had to content myself with a few euros.
     = I had to be satisfied with a few euros.

Reflexive pronouns 4


Reflexive pronouns 5



is it possible to say: "He wants to improve himself." -
as "to improve" already has a reflexive meaning in English?

Wouldn't "He wants to improve all by himself." be a better choice for emphatic use?

Hello Elisa

Although we do talk about 'self-improvement' and in a quick internet search I did find a page where someone talked about improving herself, to me it sounds a little strange to use 'improve' reflexively in this way. You could improve some specific skill or your living conditions, for example. 'all by himself' expresses the idea of him improving without anyone else's help.

If you explain the context a bit more, we can help you find a way to say what you mean.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team


Could you please tell me whether both of these sentences are correct:

-I take a picture of me.
-I take a picture of myself.

Thank you. Regards, Anna

Hello Anna,

The second sentence (with myself) is correct.

You can describe a picture using a normal object pronoun (me, you, him etc):

This is a picture of me.


However, when an action is performed by a person on themselves, we use reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself etc).

I took a picure of myself.


We also use reflexive pronouns when there would otherwise be ambiguity:

'Paul has a picture of him' could be about someone else (not Paul).

'Paul has a picture of himself' make it clear that the picture is of Paul.



The LearnEnglish Team

Can someone explain why Shakespeare uses a reflexive pronoun in Act 2 Scene 1 of Twelfth Night: He left behind him myself and a sister, both
born in an hour: if the heavens had been pleased,
would we had so ended!

Hello scoutie

'myself' refers to the speaker; 'He' left behind two people, the speaker and a sister. English has changed quite a lot since the time Shakespeare was writing, and in any case, what his characters say is often in verse, which sometimes requires an extra syllable or two.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence correct: Anyone could hurt themself.? or must it say 'themselves'?

Hello Larrie

I would say 'themselves' here, but I suspect you could find others who prefer 'themself'. Actually, most native speakers would probably try to avoid this form by saying something like 'Someone could get hurt' instead.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

He busy himself cleaning the car

Hello Sir ,
In the activities above we have the sentence: He (cut) himself shaving today.

but I d'ont understand the tense of the verb : cut, normally we say : He cuts.

Best wishes